No sooner had I enjoyed the pleasure of Cryo's Open Tennis 2000, than I received UbiSoft's latest foray into the tennis courts, "All Star Tennis". Proclaiming itself to be "today's most realistic 3D tennis simulation", I couldn't help but get enthused.
With Open Tennis almost providing us with the perfect tennis game, All Star certainly has a long path to tread in matching the standards already set. The inclusion of seven actual tennis star names certainly gives the title some weight before it has even been installed.
Unfortunately, All Star Tennis is a shadow of the promises daubed on the back of the box, and is yet another example of tennis poorly implemented onto the PC. "The realism of this simulation will amaze you!" is another choice quote, but I can safely assure you now that the only thing amazing about this game is that it ever reached the shop shelf.
Grit your teeth, it's going to be a rough ride!
After installation, prepare yourself to bear witness to perhaps the worst quality video sequence you are ever likely to experience in your life. Picture the worst Vivo-based internet video you have ever seen, and you won't be too far off the mark. The better option would have been to simply not have bothered at all.
Wanting to check the game out quickly, I fired up the Exhibition mode to get stuck into a single match .. only to find that my Sidewinder game pad didn't function. In the control configuration I managed to re-define the keys to all the buttons on my pad. Surely if it's recognising the button presses within the game, it isn't that difficult to write a proper detection routine?
All Star Tennis allows you to play out an entire season over ten tournament locations, or you can select an individual tournament. Tournaments are held in different countries and on varying court surfaces, but sadly none of them actually resemble real life locations.
Before a match you can select to play as any of the game's seven tennis stars. Maybe you would like to be Richard Krajicek, or search your feminine side as Conchita Martinez? Each player walks into view, and does a small leap of delight if you pick them to play with.
You can choose to play a game of singles, doubles, or even mixed doubles, the latter being a refreshing inclusion. By default all matches play for just one set, making it necessary to get it right the first time or be eliminated. To give yourself a little breathing space, I suggest you change the match length to three sets.
Regardless of what match mode you are in though, you won't be able to escape how absolutely dire this game is. I can't put it any other way - the game plays like some public domain effort by a wannabe programmer.
Your movement is extremely limited, with hardly enough response from the controls to get yourself from one side of the court to the other. Even when you manage to get yourself in a perfect position to return a shot, you will very often find your player either fails to respond to your button press, or the game's lousy collision detection will come into play.
The method to serve and return shots is really clumsy too, with far too much emphasis on guesswork than true skill. Some sort of marker system would have been far better, even if it was just for the service. Umpire and line calls are perhaps some of the most diabolical yet witnessed in a tennis game, and that just further infuriates you.
If all that isn't enough to have warned you off this game, then perhaps the computer controlled players' wonderful ability to be in totally the wrong place a lot of the time will. There is one advantage to this though - while you are wrestling with the controls, you may well fluke a shot past the computer, who has temporarily lost the ability to predict where the ball is going.
Graphics and Sound
Not only does the game play like a nightmare, it looks like one too. To be fair the court graphics aren't too bad, but the players look terrible, with some of the most jerky motion captures you're likely to see, and even the pre-match player stills are poorly done, making me wonder if the stars ever actually saw just how they were being represented in the game.
The game also suffers from the old 'Spot the Ball' syndrome, with you all too often having to squint at the screen to establish the ball's location. Exterior visuals like the crowd are all very careless too, looking more like a multi-coloured video corruption than a group of appreciative and adoring fans.
The downward trend doesn't stop at the sound either, with this being some of the most dull and uninspired audio I have heard in a long while. Crowd hecklers sound out every five seconds, either encouraging a particular player or answering a mobile phone. All well and good, but when you hear the same rubbish time and time again it just gets plain annoying.
I think the umpire sums everything up perfectly though, sounding about as interested in the game as I am in playing it ever again. I had visions of this guy standing next to the microphone recording each sample, and afterwards shouting "can I go home yet?"
Oh, and if I hear that menu music ever again, I swear I will commit suicide!
All Star Tennis is absolutely terrible, and I really have tried to find a spark of something good in the game. The fact that the game is not even mentioned on UbiSoft's webpage is kinda ironic in itself.
There are no redeeming features at all, with clumsy gameplay, awful graphics and sound that will have you drop-kicking your speakers through a window. There is a multiplayer option for up to four players, but I think you will find the biggest challenge is finding someone else that would want to play it.
Steer well clear!
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